Treating Ingrown Hairs (a.k.a. Razor Bumps)

Young man shaving with a razor
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I think it is safe to say that man's greatest nemesis, when it comes to grooming, is ingrown hair (a.k.a. razor bumps). They can appear anywhere, however, men are typically plagued by razor bumps on their faces and necks due to shaving, right where everybody can see them. The hair that gets shaved off leaves an edge that can curl back into the skin and start growing downward or sideways. The inward growing hair causes irritation underneath and in the pores of the skin, creating an infection that bubbles up with pus (not a pleasant image, I realize).

For this reason, they are often mistaken for pimples and can cause great pain and discomfort, not to mention embarrassment.

Because an ingrown hair can be mistaken for a pimple, or even a rash as you may have a scattering of bumps rather than a single localized bump; it is important to be able to make the distinction whether you are indeed experiencing an ingrown hair in order to treat it properly. Typically you will experience tenderness and your skin will be incredibly itchy because the hair is trapped beneath the skin. The color of a razor bump can vary from being pink or red, to being a dark spot due to the hair being visible in the epidermal layer (the outer-most layer) of your skin. Once inflammation kicks in, the bump will form bacteria in the form of pus within, resembling an acne-related whitehead.

Once you’ve determined you indeed are suffering from razor bumps, the next step is to treat them.

There are a variety of methods and products that can be applied to eliminate an ingrown hair. Begin with the simplest methods, and if you are still battling with a stubborn hair that won’t dislodge, give other suggested methods a chance.

The least invasive method involves a warm washcloth and exfoliant.

Wash the inflamed area with the warm washcloth, moving in a circular motion. Once the skin is clean and the pores have opened from the warm water, use an exfoliant such as a sugar or salt scrub. You can use what you already have in your pantry, combining a sea salt, Epsom salt, or raw sugar with sesame or vegetable oil. Like with the washcloth, gently scrub circular motion over the inflammation. The opening of the pore and exfoliation of the epidermal layer should draw the ingrown hair out for you to grab with a tweezer and remove.

Another method using household items involves a little more care due to the damage you can potentially cause to the skin. If the inflammation is causing great pain, you just may need to resort to this more aggressive method. Begin by cleansing the inflamed area with alcohol (the rubbing kind, not the kind you consume). If you have a brand new needle, use it; otherwise be sure to sterilize your needle with the same rubbing alcohol. Carefully make a pin prick at the top of the bump with your sterile needle (which most likely will draw a small amount of blood and pus). Take a pair of tweezers, preferably a needlepoint tweezer, to remove the ingrown hair. Tweezerman makes an excellent pair called Ingrown Hair/Splintertweeze for Men that has an extra sharp tip and is designed to fit properly in a man’s hands.

If exfoliating is not dislodging the ingrown hair or you do not want to deal with a needle, there are a variety of topical methods you can apply. Using a product that has salicylic acid or glycolic acid is essential as they will dry out the inflamed area, drawing the ingrown hair to the surface for easier removal. Salicylic acid is naturally derived from plants such as the bark from a willow tree. Glycolic acid is derived from fruits, such as citrus fruits and even cane sugar. Both acids work as an exfoliant to the skin, removing dead skin cells and drying out the area.

One of my favorite products in treating ingrown hairs is Tend Skin, which contains salicylic acid. This product comes in both a liquid and a roll-on formula. You apply Tend Skin after shaving with either a cotton ball (for liquid) or if using the roll-on formula, it has a built in applicator (just be sure you only use it on clean skin).

Regular use of Tend Skin should show a dramatic difference in a relatively short amount of time.

Another favorite product of mine is Kalo Ingrown Hair Treatment, which contains glycolic acid. This product comes in a spray formula, therefore you can either spray onto a cotton ball and swab onto the inflamed area, or spray directly onto the skin taking care to stay clear of your eyes. You also use Kalo spray treatment after shaving and should see improvement after a week or so.

Most men can get by with a warm compress, tweezers, and a topical solution. But, if you are plagued by a constant presence of ingrown hairs (or a rash of them), particularly those of you with thick, coarse or curly hair, you may want to consider laser treatment or electrolysis. Laser treatment involves using pulsing light to essentially stunt the hair follicle, which is the area in the skin that produces the hair. Electrolysis involves the use of a needle-like probe that is inserted into each individual hair follicle to destroy it. Both methods must be conducted by a professional and requires multiple treatments. Both of these methods can be extremely costly, but effective if you are overwhelmed with a chronic case of razor bumps.

Paying attention to how we shave and take care of our skin will be the best defense in preventing those pesky razor bumps. Here are some best practices in the prevention of ingrown hairs (or razor bumps).